KUMASI, May 11, 2016 – There was a time when kente was a sacred cloth worn only by Akan royalty in the Ashanti Kingdom of Ghana. Now, some 375 years since its origin, kente has made its way into mainstream products that anyone can wear, and has become an important export for Ghana.
Despite kente’s popularity, its inability to keep up with modern trends has kept young people from buying kente products, said Peter Paul Akanko, 22. But the young entrepreneur wants to change that; as founder and CEO of Kente Master, LLC, Akanko is creating kente products designed with the young and chic in mind.
“I make products which the youth of today can identify with,” said Akanko, who markets his goods online. “We make ties, flip flops, shoes, school bags… we also make stoles for graduations.” Kente Master is even going global - most recently, the company provided kente stoles for University of Pennsylvania graduates.
About a year ago, Kente Master was just an idea. But then Akanko heard about the Kumasi Business Incubator (KBI), an ICT-focused entrepreneurial support program open to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) students in their final year, and the larger Kumasi community. He applied, and along with several young entrepreneurs, started a year-long program complete with technology and entrepreneurship support, mentorship and even an office, to grow their innovative ideas into viable businesses.
“It’s like a dream come true for me, to have access to some resources to make me be able to grow my business,” said Akanko, whose online success has inspired him to open an offline store. “I want to see how far I can go.”
The KBI was jointly funded by the university and the World Bank’s eGhana Project, with technical assistance from the National Board of Small-Scale Investors and other private investors. The eGhana Project supported the government’s goal to generate growth and employment by leveraging ICT and public private partnerships.
“The Government of Ghana continues to emphasize the importance of ICT in achieving the country’s objective of diversified economic growth – and with good reason. Information and communications technologies are increasingly fundamental to promoting inclusive growth, creating a skilled and competitive workforce, and creating jobs and businesses in very unconventional ways,” said Mavis Ampah, World Bank project team leader for the eGhana Project. “The eGhana project was a great example of how a strong collaboration between governments, the World Bank, academia and the private sector can provide opportunities for Africa’s youth.”
Nurturing young entrepreneurs is particularly important given Ghana’s high youth unemployment rates, said Samuel Yaw Akomea, head of the Centre for Business Development at KNUST, which operates the KBI program.
“We’ve seen signs of unemployment in the country, and we realized that very soon, university students would face unemployment problems,” said Akomea. “Students had been asking about any support they could get to start their own business, and we decided it was a good opportunity for us to give them that support.”
When the program launched in 2014, more than 60 potential business owners applied for 25 available spots. Some of those applications were rejected because they didn’t meet the strict criteria established for innovative and potentially sustainable businesses. In the end, 45 business owners were accepted to participate in the first year of the program.
“We encouraged some with similar ideas to merge, because we didn’t want to turn anyone away with business ideas that could penetrate the market and are likely to create employment,” said Akomea, who mentioned that there were at least 20 applications pending for the upcoming school year.
Businesses span the spectrum, from Kente Master to geo-mapping services to software and app developers, multimedia producers and IT consultants.
“All of these businesses would have been lost if we didn’t have something like this,” Akomea said.
Deborah Mensah came to KBI with an idea for a software development firm that would provide customized accounting software for Ghanaian businesses. So far, two schools have hired her company, AdroIT Bureau Ltd., to create school management software used to register students for classes.
“The resources that are provided have helped us to really be able to build ourselves, and we will be able to stand on our own,” Mensah said. “We have taken the first step; now the confidence has been built.”
The eGhana Project is financed through IDA, the World Bank's Fund for the Poorest.